Brad Ziegler: The Best Pitcher You’ve Never Heard Of

Last week, a sports journalist corrected me on the professional wrestler’s name they thought I was messing up.

I’m not saying this to throw anyone under a bus. This person is great at their job. Besides, you probably had no idea who Brad Ziegler was either.

I bet you also didn’t know Ziegler set two Major League records in 2012.

brad-zieglerReally. Two records. You just won’t see them on the back of any baseball cards.

Ziegler, pitching for the Arizona Diamondbacks, set the Major League record for highest ground ball rate in Major League history (75.5%) and the lowest fly ball rate in history (7.7%).

The side-armed reliever, who’s pitching style is delightfully reminiscent to Chad Bradford’s (I wrote about Bradford and rapid cognition two years ago) is one of the best and most reliable pitchers in baseball.

If you read my piece on R.A. Dickey, you know I’m a fan of the pitching metric ERA-, which strips away many of the intangibles that affect a pitcher’s ERA by accounting for variables such as defense and Park Factor. For his entire career, Ziegler hasn’t just been above league average, he has been dominant, with a career ERA- of 59 (meaning he’s preventing runs at a rate 41% better than league average since debuting in 2008).

To see why he’s effective, all you need is simple logic: if a hitter hits the ball on the ground three out of every four at-bats, how is he going to hit any home runs, or even singles for that matter? Ziegler induces ground balls like no other.

As a reliever, this makes him invaluable. Ziegler induced 21 double plays last season (tied for 18th in the league). While everyone else on the list needed over 140 innings (besides Derek Lowe, they all needed at least 160), Ziegler did it in just 68 2/3 innings.

When you bring in Ziegler to “stop the bleeding”, he is the equivalent of surgical sutures, whereas most pitchers are a torn shirt sleeve tourniquet. He will stop an opponent’s momentum dead in its tracks.

Still, Ziegler gets no acknowledgement.

It really is a shame that because Ziegler doesn’t throw 95 mph (he’s lucky to crack 85 mph) or won’t win anybody a fantasy baseball championship, one of the best pitchers in the game goes almost completely unnoticed. In fact, much like Bradford, he almost didn’t get the chance.

Ziegler was drafted twice by the Philadelphia Phillies (the 31st round in 2002, and the 20th round in 2003), but they lost their faith and released him a week before the start of the 2004 season. Why? They felt he was not good enough to pitch in Low-A.

Oakland saw something in Ziegler though (big surprise!), and three years later he debuted for the A’s.

How did Ziegler reward their faith? He utterly annihilated the 101 year-old major league record for consecutive scoreless innings to start a major league career. The previous record, 25 innings, had been set by Philadelphia Phillie George McQuillan. Ziegler went on to pitch 39 scoreless before the Tampa Bay Rays finally plated a run.

In a game with endless scenarios, Ziegler provides tangible consistency, and he does it in style. Now he just needs to get the recognition he deserves.

About Pat Suley


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